Insurance Insights What scheme works when people get hurt? Reflections on underwriting options for personal injury insurance

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1 Insurance Insights What scheme works when people get hurt? Reflections on underwriting options for personal injury insurance November 2012 Anthony Day Chief Executive Officer Commercial Insurance Suncorp 1

2 Summary In 2004 the Productivity Commission concluded that private underwriting of Workers Compensation schemes was preferable to government underwriting. Today, eight years later, many personal injury schemes around Australia continue to be underwritten by the public. The New South Wales (NSW) Workers Compensation scheme is currently remediating a deficit greater than $4 billion, which has involved a Parliamentary Inquiry and controversial cuts to benefits designed to avoid projected premium rises of 28%. Those in favour of government underwriting of the personal injury classes of Workers Compensation and Compulsory Third Party (CTP) insurance argue that it provides certainty and facilitates the broad pooling of risk, backed up by the strength of a state government balance sheet. An argument for private underwriting is that it reduces the risk to state governments and ultimately to taxpayers by avoiding exposure to significant liabilities when schemes fall into deficit. Further, a private scheme can arguably deliver better health outcomes to people who have been injured and provide incentive for policy holders to reduce risk. In a well-regulated environment with a robust insurance industry like Australia, the case for private underwriting and claims management appears strong, but is it sufficiently compelling to prompt government schemes to transition to private underwriting? This paper examines the question of public versus private underwriting of personal injury insurance schemes. 2

3 Background Each state and territory in Australia has personal injury schemes for both their Workers Compensation and CTP insurance. The scheme designs range from full state administration of underwriting, policy and claims management to fully privatised schemes with multiple insurers operating with a number of variations in between. Federal schemes such as Comcare also exist. Workers Compensation in NSW and Victoria are referred to as managed fund schemes with state government underwriting the risk and providing the capital, whilst policy administration and claims management is outsourced to scheme agents who are paid on a fee for service basis. Scheme agents are often insurance companies and include GIO, QBE, Allianz and CGU. Third party administrators such as EML, Xchanging and Gallagher Basset also operate as scheme agents. In South Australia, a single agent (EML) has provided all Workers Compensation policy and claims management. A second claims manager will commence on 1 January Queensland Workers Compensation is entirely government run with no insurer or agent involvement 2. Western Australia (WA), Tasmania (TAS), the Northern Territory (NT) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) have privately underwritten Workers Compensation schemes with multiple insurers operating within them. In CTP, only NSW and Queensland have private underwriting and multiple insurers operating within their schemes. The ACT has a privately underwritten scheme but NRMA is currently the only provider. Other insurers are reluctant to enter the market under the current legislation and procedures. All other CTP schemes are entirely underwritten by government. 1 The South Australian Government recently completed a tender process for claims management of its Workers Compensation scheme. A second claims manager, Gallagher Bassett, will enter the scheme on 1 January The Queensland Government has brought forward its fiveyearly review and created a Parliamentary Committee to oversee the review. Comparing schemes simply on premium rates can be misleading as each jurisdiction has different benefit regimes for those who are injured. For example, CTP prices are higher in NSW than in WA, but NSW has a lifetime care scheme for all catastrophic injuries while WA does not. The Workers Compensation average premium rate is significantly lower in Queensland than in NSW, but income replacement in Queensland is capped at five years or $287,605, whilst in NSW income replacement can continue until retirement age for severely injured workers 3. The underlying dynamics that are present in government and privately underwritten schemes provide a more accurate basis for consideration. Liability management State government underwriting means that the relevant government authority is directly able to set the exact premium for personal injury insurance policies. Critics of the publicly underwritten model contend that a state government is compromised when it comes to the difficult task of managing liabilities for future claims cost in a personal injury scheme. It is apparent there will always be the potential for a state government to be pressured to reduce premiums or moderate premium increases due to the impact on the electorate. Business owners and motorists want lower premiums, whilst unions and lawyers who represent the injured advocate for increased benefits. With no independent regulator requiring the scheme to remain fully funded, arguably there will always be a temptation for a state government to allow the scheme to go into deficit as has occurred under all major political parties and for both Workers Compensation and CTP schemes. As noted, the NSW Work Cover scheme is currently remediating a deficit of more than $4 billion. The Queensland Workers Compensation scheme has been on a sharp decline in recent years, managing a thin surplus in 2010/11. The Transport Accident Commission (TAC) that manages the CTP scheme in Victoria recently 3 Adjustments to the maximum duration of income replacement payments were legislated in NSW in June Prior to the new legislation, income replacement could continue until retirement age for workers without severe injuries. 3

4 reported an increase in net liabilities from $0.24 billion in 2010/11 to $1.40 billion in 2011/12. In theory a government underwritten scheme is able to provide more consistent premiums by being less responsive to changing market conditions such as investment yields. But if those premiums are consistently too low, the result can be dramatic. Prior to privatisation in 1989, the NSW CTP scheme had deteriorated to an alarming degree. At 30 June 1988 liabilities stood at $3 billion of which $1.87 billion was unfunded. Representing $4.7 billion in today s terms, the NSW deficit was enormous both in percentage and absolute terms. Every NSW CTP policy had an additional $47 levy for the next 10 years to pay off the debt. Personal injury claims can be very expensive. They incorporate significant medical, rehabilitation and care expenses, and can include income replacement as well as lump sums for permanent impairment and pain and suffering compensation. These factors mean that sizable deficits can quickly materialise if liabilities are not monitored closely and urgent remediation undertaken. Privately underwritten schemes are arguably more effective at discerning emerging trends and responding in a timely fashion, particularly during challenging economic times. When deficits are allowed to accumulate, this effectively pushes the cost of injuries occurring today onto the employers and motorists of tomorrow. In schemes that are privately underwritten WA, ACT, NT and TAS Workers Compensation and NSW, ACT and QLD CTP there are no deficits that can be carried forward into the future. The Australian Prudential and Regulatory Authority (APRA) ensure insurance companies fully fund any future claims liabilities. Any deficit requires an adjustment that has an immediate impact on the insurance company s results. A failure to do so would result in close supervision from APRA with possible increased prudential capital requirements and damage to the insurance company s reputation and share price. There is no APRA equivalent overseeing state government schemes and placing the same conditions on governments that APRA places on private insurers. This lack of independent regulation allows government underwritten schemes to fall into deficit, with the end result being a significant impact on the state balance sheet and risk of a credit rating downgrade. Risk, price and behaviour the relationship Government underwritten Workers Compensation schemes provide businesses particularly small businesses with a high degree of premium stability. Premiums are determined by the business type and the price is identical regardless of which agent is managing the policy. This is distinct from a privately underwritten Workers Compensation scheme where, when a policy is issued, an underwriter can look at the profile of the small business, determine the risk and set the premium accordingly as per normal insurance principles. A large business with poor safety procedures and un-maintained equipment is a higher risk and will be charged a higher premium. A large business that is serious about avoiding workplace accidents will attract a lower premium. Insurance companies want to insure businesses that have good risk management practices and will offer a competitive premium to reflect this. When it is time to renew the policy, the safety record of the business and the frequency and severity of claims they have made will have a direct impact on the premium. This is true for large and small businesses alike. In a government underwritten Workers Compensation scheme like NSW WorkCover, employers paying less than $10,000 a year in premium which usually means up to five employees are immune from claims impacting on their premium. Whilst this shields these employers from premium rises, the result is that safe business operators effectively subsidise negligent business operators. Regardless of how many workers are injured at a business and the seriousness of the injuries, the 4

5 negligent employer will pay the same premium as an equivalent business with a perfect safety record. Critics point out that this is unfair and provides little incentive to change behaviour and invest in safety. In a privately underwritten Workers Compensation scheme the same negligent business operators would see their premiums dramatically impacted, delivering a clear message that to stay competitive, safety must be improved. Similarly in CTP, some insurers in the privately underwritten NSW scheme use risk rating factors such as the number of previous at-fault collisions to determine premium rates, which rewards those with a perfect driving record. Risk managers and underwriters will tell you that having a clear and direct link between risk and price is essential if you are serious about changing behaviour to reduce risk and injury. Investing in safety has multiple benefits it saves lives, improves productivity and reduces insurance premiums. It also promotes a positive safety culture within the business. One of the strengths of privately underwritten personal injury insurance schemes is that they can be more flexible and responsive, meaning they reward policy holders who look after themselves and the people in their care. Managing rehabilitation Personal injury claims management involves a remarkable confluence of objectives everyone wants the same thing, which is for the injured person to recover as quickly as possible. In the case of a workplace injury, a speedy return to work is good for the worker, the employer and the underwriter. In privately underwritten schemes the claims manager is the underwriter, meaning there is a direct link between the quality of the claims management and the bottom line of the underwriter. The underwriter has real skin in the game. There is a strong incentive to be innovative and proactive in order to avoid a protracted thus expensive claim. As Australia s largest personal injury insurer, the Suncorp Group (Suncorp) is highly cognisant of the fact that resolving a claim requires early intervention, the establishment of trust, empathy and the most effective treatment. Delays, cutting corners and failing to actively monitor progress become very expensive. In government schemes where the claims management is outsourced, the link between claims management and the bottom line is weakened if strong regulatory monitoring and aligned remuneration models are not in place. For example, reports have shown that in some government underwritten schemes there has been inadequate monitoring of rehabilitation providers by claims managers. These reports noted that rehabilitation providers were appointed, but there was insufficient follow-up to ensure actual positive results were being achieved. This lack of monitoring can allow a protracted claim to develop, dramatically increasing the period of incapacity for the injured person and the cost of the claim. Best-practice claims management is the key to minimising the negative impact of injuries on people, employers and underwriters. Competition between independent insurers who underwrite and manage claims, generates a strong motivation for claims managers to be innovative and contain costs, rather than simply following a procedure without active pursuit of an outcome for the injured person. Competition drives best practice and results in multiple parties working for the ongoing financial sustainability of the scheme. Certainty and investment A distinguishing feature of personal injury claims is that they are long tail they can last a lifetime. As they directly involve people and their families who are coping with physical injuries and financial stress, they re very complex to manage. Personal injury claims management is a highly specialised industry and establishing the expertise, systems and processes required to do it well is a significant and ongoing investment. For a business to invest in such an undertaking requires a high degree of certainty. Managed fund schemes typically offer agents five year contracts to manage policies and claims. The 5

6 state government authority is able to allocate and remove market share at will. Over the years the authorities in NSW, Victoria and South Australia have increased and decreased the number of agents, resulting in reduced market share for existing agents when numbers increase, and in agents being removed from the scheme when numbers decrease. This uncertainty can stifle investment. By way of illustration, insurers like those within Suncorp who operate in privately underwritten jurisdictions with relative security have made significant investments in the latest claims management computer systems. Compare that to other Australian jurisdictions where claims management is still paper-based. The fact that agents operating in government underwritten schemes have less security of tenure is arguably a disincentive to invest. In a privately underwritten jurisdiction an insurer assuming they comply with their licence conditions and remain competitive can expect to remain indefinitely. This encourages investment in people and systems to build the quality and profitability of their business, and improves the scheme for all participants. Role of government Advocates of privately underwritten personal injury schemes argue that they allow government to focus on the critical role they have to play in order to deliver an effective and sustainable scheme to regulate and provide oversight. Effectively the scheme is defined by the regulator, which ultimately means the state government. They set the conditions and dictate what constitutes reasonable and adequate care. By controlling the benefit structure, the regulator decides if their scheme will have generous benefits and therefore higher premiums, or restricted benefits and lower premiums. As currently occurs in privately underwritten schemes, premium increases are approved although not dictated by the regulator. The regulator is also responsible for ensuring affordability and universal coverage. As much as a direct relationship between risk and price has clear benefits in changing behaviour, there are instances where community rating of premiums is appropriate. For example, whilst an 18 year old should pay more for their CTP insurance, if they were charged the full price for the risk they represent it would be unaffordable, which would increase the likelihood of people driving without insurance. A government underwritten scheme does give the regulator direct control over the prices consumers will be charged. However, in privately underwritten schemes the regulator has a high degree of indirect control through setting ceiling prices and rejecting proposed premium increases as occurred in the NSW CTP scheme in late Regardless of whether the underwriter is public or private, the regulator is able to determine what constitutes an appropriate community rating in order to encourage the right behaviour, deliver affordable insurance to all parts of the community and reduce levels of uninsurance. NDIS Whilst proponents of private underwriting and claims management contend that this is the best option for over 99% of personal injury claims, it is not necessarily the case for the less than 1% that constitute catastrophic (severe and profound) claims. Suncorp has consistently argued that insurers have an important role to play in the proposed National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) for acquired disabilities and National Injury Insurance Scheme (NIIS) for disabilities from accidents. However, that does not include private underwriting of catastrophic components of the NDIS or NIIS. Catastrophic claims constitute approximately 20% of the total personal injury claims cost of CTP claims. The capital required for these claims is enormous due to their size and duration, and is impacted by the volatility of investment markets. If underwritten by entities that are owned by shareholders, these shareholders require a return on this capital, which increases premiums. 6

7 Further, the small number of catastrophic claims means that fragmenting the claims management by dividing them amongst several claims managers does not deliver sufficient scale. Aggregating these claims delivers economies of scale. An NDIS and NIIS will allow a long-term, holistic approach to be taken to the rehabilitation, care and support of people with catastrophic disabilities. They will be able to have their individual preferences catered for and long-term strategies implemented to maximise function and reduce the call on public medical and hospital resources. An NDIS and NIIS will also ease the burden on carers, which in turn may increase workforce participation. The cost benefits of this approach are far preferable to the current situation where insured people with catastrophic claims are generally given a lump sum, which may be inadequate, can be mismanaged and may not produce the desired outcomes. A system that provides holistic, long-term care to the catastrophically injured is preferable to one that encourages litigation in order to maximise lumpsum payouts, which can hinder early medical and return-to-work intervention. Underwriting and claims management of catastrophic injuries is best placed outside the private insurance industry due to the high capital requirements. The benefits that will be derived from a centralised scheme that is underwritten by government will deliver better outcomes for all. 7

8 Conclusion The conclusion of the Productivity Commission in 2004 that private underwriting of Workers Compensation is preferable to government underwriting also stated that the risk of insurer failure would be reduced by prudential supervision. In the intervening years, prudential control of insurers has proved its worth. Insurers are less at risk of failure than they were a decade ago due to strengthened capital requirements and greater prudential oversight. This was evident during the recent global financial crisis where the insurance industry demonstrated its resilience. Yet government underwritten personal injury schemes continue to dominate the Australian landscape, and no schemes have moved from public to private underwriting since the Productivity Commission made its recommendations in The current unfunded liabilities in government underwritten schemes expose future policy holders to increased insurance costs as a result of today s political environment. Australia has a mature and highly capable insurance industry where competition is delivering competitive pricing, innovation and a high focus on customer experience. Insurers have the skills, capacity and appetite to underwrite personal injury schemes across the nation. Moving from public to private underwriting would remove a significant liability or potential liability from the public, as well as arguably increasing efficiency, reducing costs and improving health outcomes for those who are injured. Perhaps the next decade will see more state governments asking why they continue to be in the insurance business.. The Suncorp Group Suncorp Group Limited and its related bodies corporate and subsidiaries (collectively Suncorp ) offer a range of financial products and services including banking (Suncorp Bank), general insurance, compulsory third party (CTP) insurance, workers compensation insurance, life insurance and superannuation (Suncorp Life) across Australia and New Zealand. Suncorp has around 16,000 employees and relationships with over nine million customers. Suncorp Commercial Insurance (CI) provides a wide range of business insurance products to small and medium sized businesses as well as corporate customers. These products are distributed nationally both directly and indirectly through intermediaries. CI provides workers compensation insurance in Western Australia, Northern Territory, the ACT and Tasmania, and operates in the managed fund scheme in New South Wales. CTP insurance is provided in New South Wales and Queensland. CI offers a wide range of insurance products and distributes them under the Suncorp, Vero, GIO and AAMI brands. 8

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